Welcome back to the Stage of History! As you may know, I just spent an entire weekend destroying my own brain by playing non-stop SoulCalibur VI. The charred remains of my mind has been converted into the early impressions on the game’s cast below. If you want to read about the general mechanics, check out our previous post.
Today, we’re breaking down the playable cast and their current state. I’ll put these in order of characters I got to spend the most time with.
Groh is great.
Ignoring for a minute his character design looks more at home in Under Night In-Birth than SoulCalibur VI, Groh is a solid character with a strong set of fundamentals (good AA/BB/2A/3B) He’s an excellent entry point for new players and if this is an example of the quality of future move-set designs, then nothing else has me more excited for SCVI than the new Nord.
It is impossible to talk about Groh without discussing his Stance K. This low is the literal foundation of Groh’s B+K Stance and primary offense – it’s unseeable and, on hit, creates an uninterruptible mix-up with his safe Stance BB. Combine this basic mix-up with his stance’s unique sidestep cancel options, and you end up with a solid, easy-to-play character whose secondary options grow with your knowledge of the game. Every character should have a way to open people up like Groh does, and he’s a really good mid-point to balance the cast around.
The sidestep cancel is just one example of Groh’s built-in mobility — in his non-stance move-set, he has several moves that automatically sidestep during their startup. 66B, 4B, 44A all had evasion properties in some way.
I’m happy to see that, at least for Groh, Namco made all the right frame data decisions for making this stance work– Groh has at least one on-block frame trap into stance (4A), and nearly every stance transition poke is positive on hit. (6B, 6A) Little things like this often make or break stance characters and I’m happy to say that Groh’s move-set, while lean, is beautifully designed.
The only area I’m really unsure of is his Soul Charge options. In general, a day of game-play with no training mode is not really enough time to work out Soul Charge options, but I can tell you Groh becomes even more mobile thanks to a new teleport his stance gets. Unfortunately, like pretty much everything else in the game, you can use CE to punish it on reaction.
He might look like Kilik, but you really can’t play him like any previous iterations. Nearly every input has been swapped in some way for this guy — his old 6AA is now AA, his old AA is now 6A, 2A is now 4A, etc. As a SCII Kilik player, the experience of playing him was incredibly jarring at first, and ultimately I don’t think he gels with what I liked about that character in the past — The 6A Just Frames are gone, Legend Rush cancels are gone, etc.
But I don’t think this means he’s bad, not at all. SCVI Kilik’s core toolkit is impressive — his combo damage is high, he has by far the longest range 3B he’s ever had, he has both a standard 2A and his old SCII 2A in the same game, and he still has some of his disgusting frame traps with 236K, Guard Breaks, etc. He even has a new low (that is basically the second hit of his SCIII 4KB) that seems to be positive on hit. In SCIII, he had a brutally good 2K to compliment his WS B. This new low is slower, but still allows the same type of belligerent guessing game from crouch. I’m a fan.
While I will ditto my comments on Soul Charge from Groh above, I’d like to note one thing about Kilik’s — For reasons beyond my comprehension, Kilik is allowed to do a CE from Soul Charge state despite only having one bar. His CE becomes a 40%+ damage command grab super, which is arguably balanced by the fact that Kilik’s Soul Charge drains his entire lifebar while active. Whether or not it actually is balanced, we’ll see over time, but just from a math stand point I’m not sure why Kilik gets to break the rules and get both a get-off-me panic button and an insane command grab/install super for the cost of only 1 bar.
Mitsurugi players should be happy — while SCVI’s take on the samurai is different from previous iterations, this reinvention of the character not only brings back both of his classic stances (Relic, Mist) but updates each with new moves and utility. Most of Mitsu’s moves have new transitions into these stances, and in general he’s able to dance and feint in ways he’s always felt like he was supposed to.
He’s also built around a new mix-up low (1BB) which is unseeable and does high damage, but leaves the opponent standing at mid range. It’ll take some getting used to the fact that your mixup low now leaves the enemy away from you, but Mitsu’s excellent mid range poke game plays with it well. 1BB is also a high damage combo ender for many grounded states, such as post 22B knockdown.
I walked away from Texas Showdown with the distinct impression that Xianghua was the weakest character in the build. This isn’t “wrong” or “bad” in any sense — I can’t fault Bandai Namco for being hesitant to pull the trigger on a character that nearly became synonymous with developer oversight in the SCII/III days. And it’s to their credit that even if I ultimately felt she was “weaker” than others on the character select screen, this does not mean she is “weak” at all — all of the characters in this build felt like a threat.
Xianghua has a number of new stances that, upon initial impression, seem quite inconsequential to her game-play. These stances are very similar to Ling Xioayu’s Art of Phoenix stance in Tekken 7, but they lack a low mix-up. Instead, Xianghua gets access to a command grab mix-up or a series of decent mids. The problem here is that all of these options lose to 2A without enough frame advantage — when Xiaoyu taught Xianghua how to AOP, I guess she forgot to teach her to go under crouch jabs.
The most useful transition I found was her 6B poke, a brand new move whose long vertical range and speed gives even more utility and poke power to a character already known for both. This move isn’t just good because it’s a stance transition, though — 6BB is an excellent mid-range whiff punisher and combo starter, and 6BA is a low mix-up that ties this move’s many options together. Future Xianghua players, this is going to be a big part of your offense.
The only time I ever had the AOP-Like stance ever duck anything surprising was when it ducked Kilik’s 3K, which is traditionally one of the best panic button mids in the Calibur series. Go figure.
Outside of that, Xianghua has a lot of lows but most are crippled in the same vein that most lows between SCIII – V were: they’re just bad on hit, seeable on reaction, or just force you to go through a bunch of hoops just to get the move you want move. 3A, for example, is minus on hit, but you’re also supposed to use it to go into her stance. The lows I felt most at home using here were her old WS A+B (which is still fast and plus-on-hit, but requires you to be at point-blank range and crouch to do it) and 1B (seeable it seems, but it ducks and sidesteps). You may notice that it is a much larger chore to mix-up an opponent with Xianghua then it is other characters, and it stands out in this build when you look at what she can do versus, say, Groh, Mitsurugi, and Kilik.
Overall, Xianghua does what she’s always done — poke safely and whiff punish. But after years of nerfs, bad frame data, and the loss of some key mid-range tools (combined with some currently lackluster stances), I left feeling like I just needed a lot more time with her training mode to do anything interesting with her. I’m really excited to see how she develops, though — when the stance mix-ups do work out, it’s a blast, and I really do believe there’s hidden potential in these stances waiting to be found in the lab.
I honestly didn’t play too much as Sophitia, but I got to play against her more than anyone else mostly thanks to the fact Jonnitti and OmegaXCN were in attendance. So all of this is from the perspective of her opponent.
She seems completely average to me. I felt the most comfortable against her because her gameplan really hasn’t changed that much from what it was in past games — you punish properly and bully your opponent at mid range when necessary. I don’t know if 1K was slowed down or not, but I had a pretty high success rate of blocking the uncharged version, more so than I really thought I would. Its still minus on hit too, so either the coffee just really worked on Saturday night and its supposed to be unseeable, or this move is too weak and slow in its current state. Because of this, I found Sophie had a much harder time breaking my defense than other characters, but considering how whiff punishment heavy she’s always been, I’m assuming it’s just her play-style being overly reliant on frame data we don’t have yet. The bad backdash of SCVI hurts her (and to a smaller extent, Xianghua) the most, but she absolutely will backdash-44B your life away at some point. That’s just a fact of life.
None of the new stuff seemed terribly impressive to me — minor low string enders, a new (very telegraphed) mid-low from her Angel Step. The new moves that scared me the most came from Soul Charge, which has long pressure strings and multiple guard breaks. Here’s the problem, as I found out — you can CE in-between the strings easily. I think Sophie’s SC options, from what I’ve seen, are interesting but potentially not worth it since she has a really good CE to whiff punish with instead, particularly if your opponent has meter.
Oh, and her 3B, which has never been a great tool for mix-up purposes (and shouldn’t be, given how she’s built as the whiff punishment queen), is really bad in this game. At least five times I saw this move straight up go through people in ranges it was supposed to hit at. Please fix that, Namco. I don’t play this character but I’d hate to see this sort of thing cripple her for others.
Despite all this, one thing can’t be denied: Sophitia hits like a truck. One lethal hit 236B will melt your lifebar, as it guarantees a 66B combo. Absolutely brutal stuff.
The character I played as the least was also the character I had the most trouble fighting against. Is there any correlation there? Probably. But I will standby this statement for now — I think Nightmare is both quite good at the moment, and quite easy to accidentally make really bad if Namco isn’t careful.
Nightmare is the one character in the roster that I absolutely would say should use Soul Charge over CE. His CE, being a chargeable and steppable armored attack, is much worse than everyone else’s in the game due to its small range and potential to be stepped/GI’ed. In contrast, his Soul Charge moves are absurdly powerful, and Nightmare is able to temporarily be in a Soul Charge state without spending meter by triggering his A+B explosion.
Namco has basically centered everything in Nightmare’s move-list around the A+B “Soul Wave” explosion. SCIII players and on will be familiar with this move — Nightmare flexes and explodes with dark energy, and during its startup will armor through high and mid attacks. In past games, this move is quite bad, being -20 on block whether or not the Wave parried anything. This is no longer the case — the wave is now safe enough to avoid launch punishment, and if he successfully parries something but fails to hit the opponent, the Wave itself is completely safe thanks to the fact it becomes a Break Attack. (And, yup, that means you can’t trigger the explosion with a fast 2A and OS GI it, either.)
On-top of all of this, Namco has also made each of Nightmare’s 6 attacks (6A, 6B, 6K) all automatically trigger Soul Wave if they are hit during their startup. This basically lets Nightmare bully with these three moves virtually anytime he’s at minor disadvantage. The solution, you’d think, would be to do a fast low like a 2K, but as we mentioned before, 2Ks don’t actually tech crouch early despite their animation (And, of course, 6B hits mid).
Regardless whether this ends up being a silly gimmick or overpowering tool in the long run, I predict these buffed Soul Waves will overwhelmingly become scrub killers in the early lifespan of the game. You will need to lab and find the right punish for this move to stand a chance versus this character, on-top of all the high strings you have to learn to duck on reaction.
I want Soul Wave to remain strong because Nightmare so frequently gets shafted in the balance department of Calibur games, but I also worry about the combination of the parry safety + insanely high guard meter damage the triggered explosion does on block. I am very interested to see how this character develops — and how other characters develop to counter the newly-strengthened Soul Wave.
And that’s it. There’s likely more that I’ve forgotten, but I wanted to give as exhaustive of a picture of what SoulCalibur VI looked like at this moment in time. Overall, I actually had a lot of fun, even if I have some fundamental disagreements with design decisions made in the game. These disagreements are not strong enough to keep me from saying that, even in its beta state, playing SCVI is the most fun I have had in probably a decade of Calibur games.
But: I don’t think the game that I played can be finished by the end of the year. Mercifully, Combo Breaker is rumored to have an updated build — I am really excited to see the direction the game goes, there, and hope we get a more complete picture of SCVI’s future.